Cornerstone Prayer Time Meditations

Improper Prayer

James 4.3 (ESV) reads: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

Look at those first two words: “you ask.” Does that not sound like what we’re supposed to do when we pray? Matthew 7.7 tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you…” So why the heading, Improper Prayer, if we’re supposed to be about asking when we pray?

Don’t stop with the first two words. Oh, that none would ever take verses from God’s Word out of context ever again. Lord, guard us from this sin. If we do not go on in this verse, then we miss the entire problem: you ask and do not receive. Why? “…because you ask wrongly…” KJV reads: “…because ye ask amiss…” Our prayers aren’t answered because they’re inappropriate. Our prayers don’t achieve their purpose because they miss the mark. Unanswered prayers result; our voices don’t go any higher than the ceiling. They go no further than the person’s ears next to you. You do not receive because you ask wrongly.

Something is wrong with the heart: it’s not right; the attitude is wrong. You see, you can still go into your secret prayer closet (see the previous post) and still not pray aright if your heart is not right. Spurgeon once prayed (and I apologize for not being able to supply the information regarding the source of this idea/quote, so if someone out there can help, I’d be greatly indebted): “Lord, show me my worst (within my heart)” We need to ask the Lord of all to search our hearts, “…and see if there be any grievous way in me…” The “if” here is not really hypothetical; trust me, there will be grievous ways in me (and in you).

Here, in James 4, we have the improper attitude in prayer. This attitude seeks to spend whatever it receives upon itself; upon its own passions. This is what is causing the problems within this little church, as well. Their passions are at war with one another. Your passions are at war within you, within me. And then we wonder why our prayers sound like hitting tin.

This group’s prayer sounded good; they thought they were good. Yet their lives weren’t matching up to their profession (there’s another post for another time); their lives weren’t really changed; they’re faith appeared dead. “If any one says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.” (1 John 4.20, ESV) What pain this ought to bring to our hearts: pain of conviciton; pain of its truth in us and in others who profess Christ. This group prayed; prayerlessness was not their trouble. Selfishness was their trouble, for they prayed out of self-interest, out of concern for their own self-esteem or to contribute, somehow, to their own self-importance.

Think of Esau as an example. You see him in Genesis 27.30ff. His birthright has been cheated away from him by his conniving little (little only by a few moments in birth) brother, Jacob. And when he finds out, he starts whining and crying all over his father, but not because his father had been deceived. No, Esau’s concern was for himself. He wanted the benefits more than he wanted the benefactor to receive glory. How often do we simply want the gift and not the Giver? We put “I” on the throne, as it were, and seek to make God our servant.

Back to James 4: you desire, you covet, you do not have, you ask wrongly. Who is the “you” here? They are adulterers for they have considered friendship with the world more vital and necessary to their well-being than friendship with God.

But we may think of people who act like this (of course, not us; by all means, never us). They appear to get what they ask for. Their prayers are obviously being answered. Ah yes, but God may indeed give with His left hand, holding His right hand of judgment for another day. Would it not be better to get nothing at all than this?

We need the Holy Spirit to uncover us, to lay us naked before the One with whom we have to do. Ask the Spirit to help us see that even in our secret closet, Satan may still come in disguised as an angel of light, deceiving, tempting, destroying. If we were aware of our own selfish desires, we’d never dare approach God in such a manner. Spirit, come; show us our worst.

True prayer is concerned about God first and foremost. He is first. His cause is to be uppermost in our hearts and minds and voices. Then we can move on to concentrate upon our neighbor and his needs. What we need is the haert of a disciple that says, “Lord, teach me to pray. Teach me to die to self. Teach me to take my (Your) cross each day.”

“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This is one of those prayers that never goes unanswered. And don’t think you can pray this prayer too often, for this is a proper prayer.

May the Spirit of God cleanse our hearts: as individuals here, as a church gathered and scattered; as a people who would humble themselves before the Giver of all good and perfect gifts.

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